Pale, sunken in faces surround me. They glance across at me as they walk past, dark circles surrounding their eyes, vague with disappointment. They’re searching for an answer. An answer no one can give them. Their bones are protruding, their muscles weak. Their bodies simply tired. Searching eyes look up at me, from the children wondering why. You can see they are exhausted. Exhausted from the toxic inhibitors that have been running through their bodies, attacking the trauma within. An array of pinks, greens, purples and reds lay bruised upon their weakened arms. Evidence of a low platelet count. Evidence of a body under attack.
Hairless heads complete with an absence of eyebrows, drive the cars that sit next to me on the roads. A hearse pulls up behind me, another adjacent to me. They are just so common these days, people tend to not even blink at them. A nurse pushing a wheelchair crosses the pedestrian crossing. In the wheelchair, a lady, eyes bulging, head rolling from side to side with every bump in the road. Her skin is pale and taught. An ambulance rushes past me, sirens screaming. Another bed the hospital doesn’t have. Another person to wait in the corridor. Another person it will be just too late for. Statistics say one in three have the dreaded big C now, and as you look around, you can see it.
The city streets resemble hospital corridors. Men, women and children with white blankets covering their fragile bodies populate the sidewalks. Drips hang from the ones with wheelchairs, attaching to their hand, in a red and bruised patch. They look cold. Under the blanket, you know they are nothing but skin and bones. The drip filters through their system, sustaining their life and rehydrating them. But most of the time it isn’t enough.
Walking through the supermarket doors, I fight with my conscience. Why am I doing this..? Why do I continue to buy her another packet, another frustration? She knows that it is bad for her. She knows it contributed. But then again, is it too little too late? Who am I to judge? I walk throught the supermarket isles grabbing as I go. There is no time for cooking, quick and easy is the go. Packaged foods; chips, pre cooked frozen meals, and fatty fast food. Could this contribute? Some studies say yes. Buts some doctors say no. I chuck in some fruit to make my trolley look better.
We step out the car with our heads held high, this won’t be the last. We pass another person taking out a wheelchair for their wife, daughter or their son. We are all going to the same place. The sign looms above. Walking into a doorway the walls surrounding us covered in names of patients once before, into the dark gloomy, silver plated elevator just big enough to hold four. Floor 3 emerges as the doors open and we are greeted with bright light. Out and around the corner I realise I am not the only daughter or friend. I am just one in a crowd. This place, the Innovation for Cancer Centre, reminds me of a supermarket. People walk in, line up, get there goods, and leave again. It is just common practise. After we wait in a cue for the receptionists to take names, we’re left standing, the seats are full with elderly, young and brave, all still holding on for that breakthrough and a reason to blame there sickness on. A medium aged man walks past and offers a selection of coffee, teas and biscuits to lighten the mood, most take him in others too afraid to let another one in, I wipe the vomit from my mother’s face, so dull and lifeless, the room smelling of chemicals and bile.
Next patient, I look around, oh wait… that’s her. Pushing past the waiting cues you walk down a corridor full of trolleys with files until you reach a door, inside you feel closed in. The door shuts and your left in a white room, the only colour on a picture of random lines, is this how they want us to feel? Closed in? Unimportant? She is just that one in three; a simple number.
“Nothing more we can do!”… The words go straight through me.
“What if she stops smoking, what if she eats better?”
“Nothing you do now is going to stop the cancer.”
“But could it have been made less aggressive?”
Nobody can answer, nobody knows the answer.
“Did the chemo do anything?”
“She tried but it’s too aggressive….”
If it’s too aggressive and the drugs don’t do a thing why is it being offered, why are patients, innocent people led to believe that chemo is the best option, is chemo doing more harm? Do the stats of death to survival warrant polluting a body? It is so severe that you can’t even wash patients’ clothes with other washing due to residue spreading and harming others, so then why inject it? My mother says she is cold, I place a blanket over her, tell her to close her eyes and imagine she is on a warm, sunny beach, somewhere that is not here. Anywhere but here.
Supposedly modern medicines are here to help us and guarantee our survival in this world, but its modern medicine that takes everything you have left and washes it away, injecting someone with morphine because its scheduled and they think they are in pain, using haloperidol to control the jitters caused by the morphine and injecting buscopan to stop the chuckling in the chest due to the body shutting down, you do it because you care. But in the back of my mind the questions loom. Am I killing her? Am I the reason she can’t talk? Am I stopping her from breathing properly?
My mother closes her eyes. I sit quietly next to her, reading my trashy magazine. Shit, this world is full of shit. While glancing round the clinical smelling room, I notice a table of magazines. Well there has to be something on there better than the trash I am currently reading. As I wonder over to the table, the people stare at you, the same vague look in their eyes. Some look sad, some frustrated, and some give you the look of ‘you’re next.’ They are probably right.
I pick up a random magazine. Women’s Health, oh how fitting. I flick through the pages, without purpose. Fitness articles, healthy food articles, articles on how to improve your quality of life and how to be happy. It’s hard to be happy when sickness is all around you. Our way of living, our lifestyle is full of carcinogens, ranging from radiation, processed foods and preservatives in packaged foods to even simple daily things such as barbequing, which can form benzene, a simple carcinogen. Are they serious!?! We can’t even eat without potential harm. With a flick of the page an anti smoking campaign props up from the page. Colour scheme, red back and white, how original! This magazine isn’t helping me rid my mind of questions. So does cigarette smoke to contribute to cancers in other parts of the body, is the air we breathe polluted and causing our bodies to shut down before our time? I am sitting reading this magazine, with my mother, sitting next to me, getting pumped with a drug that is attacking her cells, the bad ones, but the good as well. It makes you wonder. This is my mother, my brother’s mother, my dad’s wife, my grandma’s daughter and my future kid’s grandmother. Carcinogens surround us; we live in a world full of them. How do we avoid them? We can’t. I guess she is just that one in three. A simple statistic.
Carcinogens or cancer? Hmmm. Well it is contentious!